“Holy Cow” – The stones are alive

“A wall is not just a wall in these parts of the world. The stones comes with a lot of respect”.

The Significance of the City Wall of Chiang Mai and its guardians
When I first came to Chiang Mai in 1994, the moat and the old wall was one of the things that fascinated me most about this old city. After doing the mandatory temple tour with a “tuk tuk “in the old city, it was so nice to relax a bit on the lawn next to the wall and just watch people pass by. I tried to imagine what life was like hundreds of years ago; When people where entering the city’s gates on elephants and oxcarts, or walking with bamboo poles over their shoulders, carrying merchandise in and out to the market. How enemies where facing each other on either side of the wall, banging their spears to the ground. Nowadays, there is a completely different war going on. The moat area really comes alive during the water splashing of the Thai New Year in April. I still get a historic feel every time I pass the old wall, despite the heavy traffic surrounding it. It sends out some energy. Try, passing by in the early morning to see the monks collecting alms, or in the evening when fountains are lit in the moat.

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The holy stones of Asia
Chiang Mai was founded according to astrological principles and each entrance to the old city has a religious meaning strengthening and protecting the city. This is nothing unique, you find the same thinking in many other countries around Asia. But what has always fascinated me is that stones are alive in countries like India, Cambodia, China and even Japan. The Khmer’s have their stone temples of the gods, the Japanese have their kami gods inhibiting stones. In China, when Mao wanted to destroy the city walls of Beijing, people were reluctant to do it because of the magic properties they considered the wall to have. So does the wall of Chiang Mai have its guardians. When Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 the plan required a square with moats and walls facing cardinal directions. The main entrance to the city was in the north. At the centre of the city was the city pillar that according to old Indian belief represents Mount Meru. The walls and the moats are considered to be the mountains and seas of the outer universe.

Every entrance and corner has its own guardian
One of my favorite areas of the wall is at Suan Dok (flower garden gate), that used to be just next to the old palace garden of Chiang Mais kings. Here a guardian called Surachato looks after the citizens. At  the north-east, Sri Pum is  glory-fies  the city. At  Thapae (the raft landing gate), the guardian Surakkhito presides of the city’s foundation. Chang Puak gate(the white elephant) has a guardian named Khantharakhito that ensure the city´s power and stability. The Chiang Mai gate has a guardian that protects the city´s nobility. The Katam corner (fishtrap) is for the city’s fortifications.  The Hua Rin corner (watersource) influences the longevity of Chiang Mai and so on.

To have a harmonious city, the relations between the guardians has to be in order between the center pillar and the outer area. So please remember; a wall is not just a wall in these parts of the world. The stones comes with a lot of respect.

Text: Per Sundberg
Pictures: Jan Friman

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